Seaside Dragons

30 Dec

After a chilly morning the day has warmed considerably, making it perfect weather for hunting dragons. My quarry is the glorious little Painted Ground-dragon, a species that lives in the remnant coastal dunes fringing several of Adelaide’s beachside suburbs. The dunes behind Tennyson Beach provide a perfect habitat; scrubby heath with coastal grasses and succulent ground covers. The best strategy is to walk slowly along the marked trails stopping frequently to listen for a tell tale rustle in the understory.

Tennyson dunes showing low fencing to preserve environment

Painted Ground-dragons (Ctenophorus pictus) are one of the 65 species of dragon lizards that occur in Australia. They are diurnal with long tails and legs and a typically rough, stippled appearance. Some of their scales form ridges and points that give them a rather undeserverd, fearsome appearance. Painted Dragons grow to around 20 cms in length, live in burrows in sandy soil amongst low vegetation and feed mainly on small invertebrates.

close up of male Painted Dragon showing skin texture and colouring

Close up of male Painted Dragon showing skin texture and colouring

At this time of the year the feisty little reptiles have some serious breeding to attend to and they need a few rays to warm up their blood. The rather promiscuous females are game for any male that looks their way and the guys need some energy to put on their twisting, bobbing and erecting displays.

male Paintd Dragon in display mode

Male Paintd Dragon in display mode

male Painted Dragon sunning himself  amongst understory

Male Painted Dragon sunning himself amongst understory

Sexual necessity and the never ending quest for food gives me an advantage as Painted Dragons will often break cover or bask on a branch or tree root to get more exposure to the sun. The complex barred pattern on their bodies, coupled with the blue grey and orange colouring of the showy males and browns and creams of the females, makes them difficult to spot unless they move. The trick is to walk quietly enough to hear them yet boldly enough to flush them out.

As I pass a tangle of dead branches and spiky coastal grass a female that has been lying on one of the wind scoured limbs runs across the path, freezing as she reaches the edge. I fire off a couple of frames. Then I glance back at the area she emerged from, immediately spotting a now forlorn male perched on a bare branch that overlooked her hiding place. He appears to be performing a set of lacklustre push-ups and tail wriggles in a futile attempt to lure her back.female Painted Dragon flushed onto path

As the afternoon progresses I get a few more shots and watch a large White Faced Heron stalking insidiously through the dunes, also hunting dragons but with a far more sinister intent. Finally, hot and tired from my afternoon’s endeavours I take one of the short, sand blown trails down to the beach and enjoy a leisurely paddle through the cool, clear water.

White Faced Heron stalking lizards

White Faced Heron stalking lizards

But ther is one final surprise to end my dragon hunting day. As I walk towards the edge of the car park, I catch sight of one last lizard. Not a Painted Dragon this time but its larger relative the Bearded Dragon. This one, probably a male is wrapped around the dead trunk of an old acacia tree, surveying his territory.

Bearded Dragon surveying territory

Bearded Dragon surveying territory

Some days the gods of wildlife do smile on us.

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